Cost-of-living adjustments and benefits proposals were the topics of discussion at a Moab City Council budget workshop on May 14. Council members resolved at the meeting to come up with a solution that best serves everyone.
“This is the busiest I’ve ever seen this room, so it obviously is of personal concern to you,” Council Member Karen Guzman-Newton said.
“We don’t want to support any insurance for council members unless we’re also able to provide for other part-time employees,” Council Member Rani Derasary clarified. “I just want to reiterate that we weren’t trying to not offer a COLA (cost of living adjustment) and trying to get insurance for ourselves”
As part-time employees, council members are not currently offered health insurance coverage through the city. For this reason, when the city began budgeting for the fiscal year 2018, Mayor Emily Niehaus advocated the council revisit city health care policies.
“I feel that the information was good to have,” Niehaus said. “I feel that it opened up a conversation about part-time employees. Because the conversation was in such an early phase, council members neglected to clarify whether or not a new policy would cover all part-time city employees or just council members. This confusion was amplified by the fact that at the same time, council was also debating a proper cost of living adjustment for city employees, determining inflationary pay raises. I did not want to state this earlier because I did not want it to be personal, but I am covered by health insurance, and would not be affected by this decision.”
Derasary also disclosed that she was covered by personal health insurance.
After opening the discussion about health benefits, the council concluded that providing insurance to all part-time employees was not feasible within the current budget.
The council did, for the most part, support a three percent pay increase for city employees to support a COLA above the national average of 2.5 percent. This was an issue addressed by Council Member Mike Duncan.
Referring to a recommendation made by Moab City Manager David Everitt, Duncan said, “[Everitt] first proposed the five percent increase plan based on merit. I thought that was the primary mechanism for raises. Then when I saw the 2.5 percent increase on top of that, I asked if we were getting a competitive level.” Duncan argued that accepting the 2.5 percent COLA, in addition to a potential five-percent, performance-based raise, created too large of a budget for city salaries.
Everitt explained the importance of both, saying, “Let’s say someone has a bad year, and they get a bad evaluation. The cost of gas keeps going up, and we want to protect from that regardless.”
Other council members spoke in support of Everitt’s recommendation and voiced their approval of a three percent COLA. Derasary advocated for the importance of a rate higher than the national average of 2.5 percent because of the higher cost of living in Moab.
“I personally am comfortable bumping up the index just based on traveling around the state and knowing things are different here,” Derasary said.
Niehaus agreed, and made an appeal to the city staff members in attendance, saying, “I’m really bummed that this has turned into a council-versus-staff situation where we don’t feel like we’re together on the same page, because we are.” She continued, “It’s important to me to recognize that we’re all parts of the same team.”
“Nationally, we have a president who said ‘I’m going to shake things up, and I’m going to run this country like a business.’ Maybe a bit of that is happening systemically in Moab,” Niehaus added.